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First Across the Continent
The Story of
The Exploring Expedition of Lewis
and Clark in 1804-5-6
By Noah Brooks
First Across the Continent
A Great Transaction in Land
The people of the young Republic of the United States were greatly
astonished, in the summer of 1803, to learn that Napoleon Bonaparte,
then First Consul of France, had sold to us the vast tract
of land known as the country of Louisiana. The details of this
purchase were arranged in Paris (on the part of the United States)
by Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe. The French government
was represented by Barbe-Marbois, Minister of the Public Treasury.
The price to be paid for this vast domain was fifteen million dollars.
The area of the country ceded was reckoned to be more than one million
square miles, greater than the total area of the United States,
as the Republic then existed. Roughly described, the territory
comprised all that part of the continent west of the Mississippi River,
bounded on the north by the British possessions and on the west and south
by dominions of Spain. This included the region in which now lie the States
of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, parts of Colorado, Minnesota,
the States of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, a part
of Idaho, all of Montana and Territory of Oklahoma. At that time,
the entire population of the region, exclusive of the Indian
tribes that roamed over its trackless spaces, was barely ninety
thousand persons, of whom forty thousand were negro slaves.
The civilized inhabitants were principally French, or descendants
of French, with a few Spanish, Germans, English, and Americans.
The purchase of this tremendous slice of territory could
not be complete without an approval of the bargain by
the United States Senate. Great opposition to this was
immediately excited by people in various parts of the Union,
especially in New England, where there was a very bitter feeling
against the prime mover in this business,--Thomas Jefferson,
then President of the United States. The scheme was
ridiculed by persons who insisted that the region was not
only wild and unexplored, but uninhabitable and worthless.
They derided "The Jefferson Purchase," as they called it,
as a useless piece of extravagance and folly; and, in addition
to its being a foolish bargain, it was urged that President Jefferson
had no right, under the constitution of the United States,
to add any territory to the area of the Republic.
Nevertheless, a majority of the people were in favor of the purchase,
and the bargain was duly approved by the United States Senate; that body,
July 31, 1803, just three months after the execution of the treaty of cession,
formally ratified the important agreement between the two governments.
The dominion of the United States was now extended across the entire continent
of North America, reaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Territory
of Oregon was already ours.
This momentous transfer took place one hundred years ago, when almost
nothing was known of the region so summarily handed from the government
of France to the government of the American Republic. Few white men
had ever traversed those trackless plains, or scaled the frowning
ranges of mountains that barred the way across the continent.
There were living in the fastnesses of the mysterious interior
of the Louisiana Purchase many tribes of Indians who had never looked
in the face of the white man.
Nor was the Pacific shore of the country any better known to civilized
man than was the region lying between that coast and the Big Muddy,
or Missouri River. Spanish voyagers, in 1602, had sailed as far north
as the harbors of San Diego and Monterey, in what is now California;
and other explorers, of the same nationality, in 1775, extended their
discoveries as far north as the fifty-eighth degree of latitude.
Famous Captain Cook, the great navigator of the Pacific seas,
in 1778, reached and entered Nootka Sound, and, leaving numerous
harbors and bays unexplored, he pressed on and visited the shores
of Alaska, then called Unalaska, and traced the coast as far north
as Icy Cape. Cold weather drove him westward across the Pacific,
and he spent the next winter at Owyhee, where, in February of
the following year, he was killed by the natives.
All these explorers were looking for chances for fur-trading,
which was at that time the chief industry of the Pacific coast.
Curiously enough, they all passed by the mouth of the Columbia
without observing that there was the entrance to one of the finest
rivers on the American continent.
Indeed, Captain Vancouver, a British explorer, who has left his name
on the most important island of the North Pacific coast, baffled by the
deceptive appearances of the two capes that guard the way to a noble stream
(Cape Disappointment and Cape Deception), passed them without a thought.
But Captain Gray, sailing the good ship "Columbia," of Boston, who coasted
those shores for more than two years, fully convinced that a strong current
which he observed off those capes came from a river, made a determined effort;
and on the 11th of May, 1792, he discovered and entered the great river
that now bears the name of his ship. At last the key that was to open
the mountain fastnesses of the heart of the continent had been found.
The names of the capes christened by Vancouver and re-christened by
Captain Gray have disappeared from our maps, but in the words of one of
the numerous editors of the narrative of the exploring expedition of Lewis
and Clark: "The name of the good ship `Columbia,' it is not hard to believe,
will flow with the waters of the bold river as long as grass grows or water
runs in the valleys of the Rocky Mountains."
 Dr. Archibald McVickar.
It appears that the attention of President Jefferson had been early
attracted to the vast, unexplored domain which his wise foresight was
finally to add to the territory of the United States. While he was living
in Paris, as the representative of the United States, in 1785-89, he made
the acquaintance of John Ledyard, of Connecticut, the well-known explorer,
who had then in mind a scheme for the establishment of a fur-trading post on
the western coast of America. Mr. Jefferson proposed to Ledyard that the most
feasible route to the coveted fur-bearing lands would be through the Russian
possessions and downward somewhere near to the latitude of the then unknown
sources of the Missouri River, entering the United States by that route.
This scheme fell through on account of the obstacles thrown in Ledyard's
way by the Russian Government. A few years later, in 1792, Jefferson,
whose mind was apparently fixed on carrying out his project, proposed to
the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia that a subscription should
be opened for the purpose of raising money "to engage some competent person
to explore that region in the opposite direction (from the Pacific coast),--
that is, by ascending the Missouri, crossing the Stony [Rocky] Mountains,
and descending the nearest river to the Pacific." This was the hint from
which originated the famous expedition of Lewis and Clark.
But the story-teller should not forget to mention that hardy
and adventurous explorer, Jonathan Carver. This man, the son
of a British officer, set out from Boston, in 1766, to explore
the wilderness north of Albany and lying along the southern shore
of the Great Lakes. He was absent two years and seven months,
and in that time he collected a vast amount of useful and
strange information, besides learning the language of the Indians
among whom he lived. He conceived the bold plan of travelling up
a branch of the Missouri (or "Messorie"), till, having discovered
the source of the traditional "Oregon, or River of the West,"
on the western side of the lands that divide the continent,
"he would have sailed down that river to the place where it
is said to empty itself, near the Straits of Anian."
By the Straits of Anian, we are to suppose, were meant some part
of Behring's Straits, separating Asia from the American continent.
Carver's fertile imagination, stimulated by what he knew
of the remote Northwest, pictured that wild region where,
according to a modern poet, "rolls the Oregon and hears no sound
save his own dashing." But Carver died without the sight;
in his later years, he said of those who should follow his lead:
"While their spirits are elated by their success, perhaps they
may bestow some commendations and blessings on the person
who first pointed out to them the way."
Beginning a Long Journey
In 1803, availing himself of a plausible pretext to send out an
exploring expedition, President Jefferson asked Congress to appropriate
a small sum of money ($2,500) for the execution of his purpose.
At that time the cession of the Louisiana Territory had not been completed;
but matters were in train to that end, and before the expedition
was fairly started on its long journey across the continent,
the Territory was formally ceded to the United States.
Meriwether Lewis, a captain in the army, was selected by
Jefferson to lead the expedition. Captain Lewis was a native
of Virginia, and at that time was only twenty-nine years old.
He had been Jefferson's private secretary for two years and was,
of course, familiar with the President's plans and expectations
as these regarded the wonder-land which Lewis was to enter.
It is pleasant to quote here Mr. Jefferson's words concerning
Captain Lewis. In a memoir of that distinguished young officer,
written after his death, Jefferson said: "Of courage undaunted;
possessing a firmness and perseverance of purpose which
nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction;
careful as a father of those committed to his charge,
yet steady in the maintenance of order and discipline;
intimate with the Indian character, customs and principles;
habituated to the hunting life; guarded, by exact observation
of the vegetables and animals of his own country, against losing
time in the description of objects already possessed;
honest, disinterested, liberal, of sound understanding,
and a fidelity to truth so scrupulous that whatever he should
report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves--with all
these qualifications, as if selected and implanted by nature
in one body for this express purpose, I could have no hesitation
in confiding the enterprise to him."
Before we have finished the story of Meriwether Lewis and his companions,
we shall see that this high praise of the youthful commander
was well deserved.
For a coadjutor and comrade Captain Lewis chose William Clark, also a
native of Virginia, and then about thirty-three years old. Clark, like Lewis,
held a commission in the military service of the United States, and his
appointment as one of the leaders of the expedition with which his name
and that of Lewis will ever be associated, made the two men equal in rank.
Exactly how there could be two captains commanding the same expedition,
both of the same military and actual rank, without jar or quarrel,
we cannot understand; but it is certain that the two young men got on
together harmoniously, and no hint or suspicion of any serious disagreement
between the two captains during their long and arduous service has come
down to us from those distant days.
 It is a little singular that Captain Clark's name has been
so persistently misspelled by historians and biographers.
Even in most of the published versions of the story of the Lewis
and Clark expedition, the name of one of the captains is
spelled Clarke. Clark's own signature, of which many are
in existence, is without the final and superfluous vowel;
and the family name, for generations past, does not show it.
As finally organized, the expedition was made up of the two captains
(Lewis and Clark) and twenty-six men. These were nine young men
from Kentucky, who were used to life on the frontier among Indians;
fourteen soldiers of the United States Army, selected from many who
eagerly volunteered their services; two French voyageurs, or watermen,
one of whom was an interpreter of Indian language, and the other
a hunter; and one black man, a servant of Captain Clark. All these,
except the negro servant, were regularly enlisted as privates
in the military service of the United States during the expedition;
and three of them were by the captains appointed sergeants.
In addition to this force, nine voyageurs and a corporal and six
private soldiers were detailed to act as guides and assistants
until the explorers should reach the country of the Mandan Indians,
a region lying around the spot where is now situated the flourishing
city of Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota. It was expected
that if hostile Indians should attack the explorers anywhere within
the limits of the little-known parts through which they were to make
their way, such attacks were more likely to be made below the Mandan
country than elsewhere.
The duties of the explorers were numerous and important. They were to explore
as thoroughly as possible the country through which they were to pass;
making such observations of latitude and longitude as would be needed
when maps of the region should be prepared by the War Department;
observing the trade, commerce, tribal relations, manners and customs,
language, traditions, and monuments, habits and industrial pursuits,
diseases and laws of the Indian nations with whom they might come in contact;
note the floral, mineral, and animal characteristics of the country, and,
above all, to report whatever might be of interest to citizens who might
thereafter be desirous of opening trade relations with those wild tribes
of which almost nothing was then distinctly known.
The list of articles with which the explorers were provided,
to aid them in establishing peaceful relations with the Indians,
might amuse traders of the present day. But in those primitive times,
and among peoples entirely ignorant of the white man's
riches and resources, coats richly laced with gilt braid,
red trousers, medals, flags, knives, colored handkerchiefs,
paints, small looking-glasses, beads and tomahawks were believed
to be so attractive to the simple-minded red man that he would
gladly do much and give much of his own to win such prizes.
Of these fine things there were fourteen large bales and one box.
The stores of the expedition were clothing, working tools,
fire-arms, food supplies, powder, ball, lead for bullets,
and flints for the guns then in use, the old-fashioned
flint-lock rifle and musket being still in vogue in our country;
for all of this was at the beginning of the present century.
As the party was to begin their long journey by ascending the
Missouri River, their means of travel were provided in three boats.
The largest, a keel-boat, fifty-five feet long and drawing
three feet of water, carried a big square sail and twenty-two
seats for oarsmen. On board this craft was a small swivel gun.
The other two boats were of that variety of open craft known
as pirogue, a craft shaped like a flat-iron, square-sterned,
flat-bottomed, roomy, of light draft, and usually provided with four
oars and a square sail which could be used when the wind was aft,
and which also served as a tent, or night shelter, on shore.
Two horses, for hunting or other occasional service, were led
along the banks of the river.
As we have seen, President Jefferson, whose master mind organized and
devised this expedition, had dwelt longingly on the prospect of crossing
the continent from the headwaters of the Missouri to the headwaters
of the then newly-discovered Columbia. The route thus explored was more
difficult than that which was later travelled by the first emigrants
across the continent to California. That route lies up the Platte River,
through what is known as the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains,
by Great Salt Lake and down the valley of the Humboldt into California,
crossing the Sierra Nevada at any one of several points leading
into the valley of the Sacramento. The route, which was opened
by the gold-seekers, was followed by the first railroads built across
the continent. The route that lay so firmly in Jefferson's mind,
and which was followed up with incredible hardships by the Lewis
and Clark expedition, has since been traversed by two railroads,
built after the first transcontinental rails were laid.
If Jefferson had desired to find the shortest and most feasible
route across the continent, he would have pointed to the South Pass
and Utah basin trails. But these would have led the explorers
into California, then and long afterwards a Spanish possession.
The entire line finally traced over the Great Divide lay within
the territory of the United States.
But it must be remembered that while the expedition was being organized,
the vast Territory of Louisiana was as yet a French possession. Before the
party were brought together and their supplies collected, the territory passed
under the jurisdiction of the United States. Nevertheless, that jurisdiction
was not immediately acknowledged by the officials who, up to that time,
had been the representatives of the French and Spanish governments.
Part of the territory was transferred from Spain to France and then
from France to the United States. It was intended that the exploring
party should pass the winter of 1803-4 in St. Louis, then a mere village
which had been commonly known as Pain Court. But the Spanish governor
of the province had not been officially told that the country had been
transferred to the United States, and, after the Spanish manner,
he forbade the passage of the Americans through his jurisdiction.
In those days communication between frontier posts and points lying far
to the eastward of the Mississippi was very difficult; it required six
weeks to carry the mails between New York, Philadelphia, and Washington
to St. Louis; and this was the reason why a treaty, ratified in July,
was not officially heard of in St. Louis as late as December of that year.
The explorers, shut out of Spanish territory, recrossed the Mississippi
and wintered at the mouth of Wood River, just above St. Louis,
on the eastern side of the great river, in United States territory.
As a matter of record, it may be said here that the actual transfer
of the lower part of the territory--commonly known as Orleans--took place
at New Orleans, December 20, 1803, and the transfer of the upper part
was effected at St. Louis, March 10, 1804, before the Lewis and Clark
expedition had started on its long journey to the northwestward.
All over the small area of the United States then existed a deep
interest in the proposed explorations of the course and sources of the
Missouri River. The explorers were about to plunge into vast solitudes of
which white people knew less than we know now about the North Polar country.
Wild and extravagant stories of what was to be seen in those trackless
regions were circulated in the States. For example, it was said that Lewis
and Clark expected to find the mammoth of prehistoric times still living
and wandering in the Upper Missouri region; and it was commonly reported
that somewhere, a thousand miles or so up the river, was a solid mountain
of rock salt, eighty miles long and forty-five miles wide, destitute of
vegetation and glittering in the sun! These, and other tales like these,
were said to be believed and doted upon by the great Jefferson himself.
The Federalists, or "Feds," as they were called, who hated Jefferson,
pretended to believe that he had invented some of these foolish yarns,
hoping thereby to make his Louisiana purchase more popular in the Republic.
In his last letter to Captain Lewis, which was to reach the explorers
before they started, Jefferson said: "The acquisition of the
country through which you are to pass has inspired the country
generally with a great deal of interest in your enterprise.
The inquiries are perpetual as to your progress. The Feds alone
still treat it as a philosophism, and would rejoice at its failure.
Their bitterness increases with the diminution of their numbers
and despair of a resurrection. I hope you will take care
of yourself, and be a living witness of their malice and folly."
Indeed, after the explorers were lost sight of in the wilderness
which they were to traverse, many people in the States declaimed
bitterly against the folly that had sent these unfortunate men
to perish miserably in the fathomless depths of the continent.
They no longer treated it "as a philosophism," or wild prank,
but as a wicked scheme to risk life and property in a search
for the mysteries of the unknown and unknowable.
As a striking illustration of this uncertainty of the outcome
of the expedition, which exercised even the mind of Jefferson,
it may be said that in his instructions to Captain Lewis he said:
"Our Consuls, Thomas Hewes, at Batavia in Java, William Buchanan
in the isles of France and Bourbon, and John Elmslie at the Cape of
Good Hope, will be able to supply your necessities by drafts on us."
All this seems strange enough to the young reader of the present day;
but this was said and done one hundred years ago.
From the Lower to the Upper River
The party finally set sail up the Missouri River on Monday, May 21,
1804, but made only a few miles, owing to head winds.
Four days later they camped near the last white settlement on
the Missouri,--La Charrette, a little village of seven poor houses.
Here lived Daniel Boone, the famous Kentucky backwoodsman,
then nearly seventy years old, but still vigorous, erect, and strong
of limb. Here and above this place the explorers began
to meet with unfamiliar Indian tribes and names. For example,
they met two canoes loaded with furs "from the Mahar nation."
The writer of the Lewis and Clark journal, upon whose notes
we rely for our story, made many slips of this sort.
By "Mahars" we must understand that the Omahas were meant.
We shall come across other such instances in which the strangers
mistook the pronunciation of Indian names. For example,
Kansas was by them misspelled as "Canseze" and "Canzan;" and there
appear some thirteen or fourteen different spellings of Sioux,
of which one of the most far-fetched is "Scouex."
The explorers were now in a country unknown to them and almost
unknown to any white man. On the thirty-first of May, a messenger
came down the Grand Osage River bringing a letter from a person
who wrote that the Indians, having been notified that the country
had been ceded to the Americans, burned the letter containing
the tidings, refusing to believe the report. The Osage Indians,
through whose territory they were now passing, were among the largest
and finest-formed red men of the West. Their name came from the
river along which they warred and hunted, but their proper title,
as they called themselves, was "the Wabashas," and from them,
in later years, we derive the familiar name of Wabash. A curious
tradition of this people, according to the journal of Lewis and Clark,
is that the founder of the nation was a snail, passing a quiet
existence along the banks of the Osage, till a high flood swept
him down to the Missouri, and left him exposed on the shore.
The heat of the sun at length ripened him into a man;
but with the change of his nature he had not forgotten his native
seats on the Osage, towards which he immediately bent his way.
He was, however, soon overtaken by hunger and fatigue, when happily,
the Great Spirit appeared, and, giving him a bow and arrow,
showed him how to kill and cook deer, and cover himself with the skin.
He then proceeded to his original residence; but as he approached
the river he was met by a beaver, who inquired haughtily who he was,
and by what authority he came to disturb his possession. The Osage
answered that the river was his own, for he had once lived on its borders.
As they stood disputing, the daughter of the beaver came, and having,
by her entreaties, reconciled her father to this young stranger,
it was proposed that the Osage should marry the young beaver,
and share with her family the enjoyment of the river.
The Osage readily consented, and from this happy union there
soon came the village and the nation of the Wabasha, or Osages,
who have ever since preserved a pious reverence for their ancestors,
abstaining from the chase of the beaver, because in killing that
animal they killed a brother of the Osage. Of late years, however,
since the trade with the whites has rendered beaver-skins more valuable,
the sanctity of these maternal relatives has been visibly reduced,
and the poor animals have lost all the privileges of kindred.
Game was abundant all along the river as the explorers
sailed up the stream. Their hunters killed numbers of deer,
and at the mouth of Big Good Woman Creek, which empties into
the Missouri near the present town of Franklin, Howard County,
three bears were brought into the camp. Here, too, they began
to find salt springs, or "salt licks," to which many wild
animals resorted for salt, of which they were very fond.
Saline County, Missouri, perpetuates the name given to the region
by Lewis and Clark. Traces of buffalo were also found here,
and occasional wandering traders told them that the Indians had
begun to hunt the buffalo now that the grass had become abundant
enough to attract this big game from regions lying further south.
By the tenth of June the party had entered the country of the
Ayauway nation. This was an easy way of spelling the word now
familiar to us as "Iowa." But before that spelling was reached,
it was Ayaway, Ayahwa, Iawai, Iaway, and soon. The remnants of this
once powerful tribe now number scarcely two hundred persons.
In Lewis and Clark's time, they were a large nation, with several
hundred warriors, and were constantly at war with their neighbors.
Game here grew still more abundant, and in addition to deer and bear
the hunters brought in a raccoon. One of these hunters brought into
camp a wild tale of a snake which, he said, "made a guttural noise
like a turkey." One of the French voyageurs confirmed this story;
but the croaking snake was never found and identified.
On the twenty-fourth of June the explorers halted to prepare some of the meat
which their hunters brought in. Numerous herds of deer were feeding
on the abundant grass and young willows that grew along the river banks.
The meat, cut in small strips, or ribbons, was dried quickly in the hot sun.
This was called "jirked" meat. Later on the word was corrupted into "jerked,"
and "jerked beef" is not unknown at the present day. The verb "jerk"
is corrupted from the Chilian word, charqui, meaning sun-dried meat;
but it is not easy to explain how the Chilian word got into the Northwest.
As the season advanced, the party found many delicious wild fruits,
such as currants, plums, raspberries, wild apples, and vast quantities
of mulberries. Wild turkeys were also found in large numbers,
and the party had evidently entered a land of plenty.
Wild geese were abundant, and numerous tracks of elk were seen.
But we may as well say here that the, so-called elk of the Northwest
is not the elk of ancient Europe; a more correct and distinctive name
for this animal is wapiti, the name given the animal by the Indians.
The European elk more closely resembles the American moose.
Its antlers are flat, low, and palmated like our moose;
whereas the antlers of the American elk, so-called, are long,
high, and round-shaped with many sharp points or tines.
The mouth of the great Platte River was reached on the twenty-first
of July. This famous stream was then regarded as a sort
of boundary line between the known and unknown regions.
As mariners crossing the equator require all their comrades,
who have not been "over the line" to submit to lathering and shaving,
so the Western voyageurs merrily compelled their mates to submit
to similar horse-play. The great river was also the mark above
which explorers entered upon what was called the Upper Missouri.
The expedition was now advancing into a region inhabited by several
wandering tribes of Indians, chief of which were the Ottoes, Missouris,
and Pawnees. It was determined, therefore, to call a council of some
of the chiefs of these bands and make terms of peace with them.
After some delay, the messengers sent out to them brought in fourteen
representative Indians, to whom the white men made presents
of roast meat, pork, flour, and corn-meal, in return for which
their visitors brought them quantities of delicious watermelons.
"Next day, August 3," says the journal, "the Indians, with their
six chiefs, were all assembled under an awning formed with the mainsail,
in presence of all our party, paraded for the occasion.
A speech was then made, announcing to them the change in the government,
our promises of protection, and advice as to their future conduct.
All the six chiefs replied to our speech, each in his turn, according
to rank. They expressed their joy at the change in the government;
their hopes that we would recommend them to their Great Father
(the president), that they might obtain trade and necessaries:
they wanted arms as well for hunting as for defence, and asked our
mediation between them and the Mahas, with whom they are now at war.
We promised to do so, and wished some of them to accompany us
to that nation, which they declined, for fear of being killed
by them. We then proceeded to distribute our presents.
The grand chief of the nation not being of the party,
we sent him a flag, a medal, and some ornaments for clothing.
To the six chiefs who were present, we gave a medal of the second
grade to one Ottoe chief and one Missouri chief; a medal of the third
grade to two inferior chiefs of each nation; the customary mode
of recognizing a chief being to place a medal round his neck, which is
considered among his tribe as a proof of his consideration abroad.
Each of these medals was accompanied by a present of paint,
garters, and cloth ornaments of dress; and to this we added
a canister of powder, a bottle of whiskey, and a few presents
to the whole, which appeared to make them perfectly satisfied.
The air-gun, too, was fired, and astonished them greatly.
The absent grand chief was an Ottoe, named Weahrushhah, which,
in English, degenerates into Little Thief. The two principal
chieftains present were Shongotongo, or Big Horse, and Wethea,
or Hospitality; also Shosguscan, or White Horse, an Ottoe;
the first an Ottoe, the second a Missouri. The incidents just related
induced us to give to this place the name of the Council Bluffs:
the situation of it is exceedingly favorable for a fort and
trading factory, as the soil is well calculated for bricks,
and there is an abundance of wood in the neighborhood, and the air
being pure and healthy."
Of course the reader will recognize, in the name given
to this place by Lewis and Clark, the flourishing modern city
of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Nevertheless, as a matter of fact,
the council took place on the Nebraskan or western side of the river,
and the meeting-place was at some distance above the site
of the present city of Council Bluffs.
Above Council Bluffs the explorers found the banks of the river to be
high and bluffy, and on one of the highlands which they passed they
saw the burial-place of Blackbird, one of the great men of the Mahars,
or Omahas, who had died of small-pox. A mound, twelve feet in diameter
and six feet high, had been raised over the grave, and on a tall
pole at the summit the party fixed a flag of red, white, and blue.
The place was regarded as sacred by the Omahas, who kept the dead
chieftain well supplied with provisions. The small-pox had caused
great mortality among the Indians; and a few years before the white
men's visit, when the fell disease had destroyed four hundred men,
with a due proportion of women and children, the survivors burned
their village and fled.
"They had been a military and powerful people; but when these warriors
saw their strength wasting before a malady which they could not resist,
their frenzy was extreme; they burned their village, and many of them put
to death their wives and children, to save them from so cruel an affliction,
and that all might go together to some better country."
In Omaha, or Mahar Creek, the explorers made their first experiment
in dragging the stream for fish. With a drag of willows, loaded
with stones, they succeeded in catching a great variety of fine fish,
over three hundred at one haul, and eight hundred at another.
These were pike, bass, salmon-trout, catfish, buffalo fish, perch,
and a species of shrimp, all of which proved an acceptable
addition to their usual flesh bill-of-fare.
Desiring to call in some of the surrounding Indian tribes,
they here set fire to the dry prairie grass, that being the customary
signal for a meeting of different bands of roving peoples.
In the afternoon of August 18, a party of Ottoes, headed by Little Thief
and Big Horse, came in, with six other chiefs and a French interpreter.
The journal says:--
"We met them under a shade, and after they had finished a repast with which we
supplied them, we inquired into the origin of the war between them and
the Mahas, which they related with great frankness. It seems that two of
the Missouris went to the Mahas to steal horses, but were detected and killed;
the Ottoes and Missouris thought themselves bound to avenge their companions,
and the whole nations were at last obliged to share in the dispute.
They are also in fear of a war from the Pawnees, whose village they entered
this summer, while the inhabitants were hunting, and stole their corn.
This ingenuous confession did not make us the less desirous of negotiating
a peace for them; but no Indians have as yet been attracted by our fire.
The evening was closed by a dance; and the next day, the chiefs
and warriors being assembled at ten o'clock, we explained the speech
we had already sent from the Council Bluffs, and renewed our advice.
They all replied in turn, and the presents were then distributed.
We exchanged the small medal we had formerly given to the Big Horse for one
of the same size with that of Little Thief: we also gave a small medal
to a third chief, and a kind of certificate or letter of acknowledgment
to five of the warriors expressive of our favor and their good intentions.
One of them, dissatisfied, returned us the certificate; but the chief,
fearful of our being offended, begged that it might be restored to him;
this we declined, and rebuked them severely for having in view mere traffic
instead of peace with their neighbors. This displeased them at first;
but they at length all petitioned that it should be given to the warrior,
who then came forward and made an apology to us; we then delivered it
to the chief to be given to the most worthy, and he bestowed it on
the same warrior, whose name was Great Blue Eyes. After a more substantial
present of small articles and tobacco, the council was ended with a dram
to the Indians. In the evening we exhibited different objects of curiosity,
and particularly the air-gun, which gave them great surprise. Those people
are almost naked, having no covering except a sort of breech-cloth round
the middle, with a loose blanket or buffalo robe, painted, thrown over them.
The names of these warriors, besides those already mentioned, were Karkapaha,
or Crow's Head, and Nenasawa, or Black Cat, Missouris; and Sananona,
or Iron Eyes, Neswaunja, or Big Ox, Stageaunja, or Big Blue Eyes,
and Wasashaco, or Brave Man, all Ottoes."
Novel Experiences among the Indians
About this time (the nineteenth and twentieth of August), the explorers lost
by death the only member of their party who did not survive the journey.
Floyd River, which flows into the Upper Missouri, in the northwest corner
of Iowa, still marks the last resting-place of Sergeant Charles Floyd,
who died there of bilious colic and was buried by his comrades near
the mouth of the stream. Near here was a quarry of red pipestone,
dear to the Indian fancy as a mine of material for their pipes;
traces of this deposit still remain. So fond of this red rock were
the Indians that when they went there to get the stuff, even lifelong
and vindictive enemies declared a truce while they gathered the material,
and savage hostile tribes suspended their wars for a time.
On the north side of the Missouri, at a point in what is now known
as Clay County, South Dakota, Captains Lewis and Clark, with ten men,
turned aside to see a great natural curiosity, known to the Indians
as the Hill of Little Devils. The hill is a singular mound in the midst
of a flat prairie, three hundred yards long, sixty or seventy yards wide,
and about seventy feet high. The top is a smooth level plain.
The journal says:--
"The Indians have made it a great article of their superstition:
it is called the Mountain of Little People, or Little Spirits;
and they believe that it is the abode of little devils, in the human form,
of about eighteen inches high, and with remarkably large heads;
they are armed with sharp arrows, with which they are very skilful,
and are always on the watch to kill those who should have the hardihood
to approach their residence. The tradition is, that many have
suffered from these little evil spirits, and, among others,
three Maha Indians fell a sacrifice to them a few years since.
This has inspired all the neighboring nations, Sioux, Mahas, and Ottoes,
with such terror, that no consideration could tempt them to visit the hill.
We saw none of these wicked little spirits, nor any place for them,
except some small holes scattered over the top; we were happy enough
to escape their vengeance, though we remained some time on the mound
to enjoy the delightful prospect of the plain, which spreads itself
out till the eye rests upon the northwest hills at a great distance,
and those of the northeast, still farther off, enlivened by large
herds of buffalo feeding at a distance."
The present residents of the region, South Dakota, have preserved
the Indian tradition, and Spirit Mound may be seen on modern maps
of that country.
Passing on their way up the Missouri, the explorers found several
kinds of delicious wild plums and vast quantities of grapes;
and here, too, they passed the mouth of the Yankton River,
now known as the Dakota, at the mouth of which is the modern
city of Yankton, South Dakota. The Yankton-Sioux Indians,
numbering about one thousand people, inhabited this part
of the country, and near here the white men were met by a large
band of these Sioux who had come in at the invitation of Lewis
and Clark. The messengers from the white men reported that they
had been well received by the Indians, who, as a mark of respect,
presented their visitors with "a fat dog, already cooked,
of which they partook heartily and found it well-flavored."
From this time, according to the journal, the explorers
tasted occasionally of roast dog, and later on they adopted
this dish as a regular feature of their bill-of-fare. They
do tell us, however, that they had some difficulty in getting
used to so novel an article of food.
The Sioux and the white men held a grand council under an
oak-tree, from the top of which was flying the American flag.
The head chief was presented with a gold-laced uniform of
the United States artillery, a cocked hat and red feather.
The lesser chiefs were also presented with suitable gifts
of lesser value. Various festivities followed the conference.
Next day another powwow was held at which the head chief,
Weucha, or Shake Hand, said:--
" `I see before me my great father's two sons.
You see me and the rest of our chiefs and warriors.
We are very poor; we have neither powder, nor ball, nor knives;
and our women and children at the village have no clothes.
I wish that, as my brothers have given me a flag and a medal,
they would give something to those poor people, or let them
stop and trade with the first boat which comes up the river.
I will bring the chiefs of the Pawnees and Mahas together, and make
peace between them; but it is better that I should do it than my
great father's sons, for they will listen to me more readily.
I will also take some chiefs to your country in the spring;
but before that time I cannot leave home. I went formerly
to the English, and they gave me a medal and some clothes:
when I went to the Spaniards they gave me a medal, but nothing
to keep it from my skin: but now you give me a medal and clothes.
But still we are poor; and I wish, brothers, you would give us
something for our squaws.'
When he sat down, Mahtoree, or White Crane, rose:
" `I have listened,' said he, `to what our father's words were yesterday;
and I am to-day glad to see how you have dressed our old chief.
I am a young man, and do not wish to take much; my fathers have made me
a chief; I had much sense before, but now I think I have more than ever.
What the old chief has declared I will confirm, and do whatever
he and you please; but I wish that you would take pity on us, for we
are very poor.'
"Another chief, called Pawnawneahpahbe, then said:
" `I am a young man, and know but little; I cannot speak well,
but I have listened to what you have told the old chief,
and will do whatever you agree.'
"The same sentiments were then repeated by Aweawechache.
"We were surprised," the journal says, "at finding that the first of
these titles means Struck by the Pawnee, and was occasioned by some blow
which the chief had received in battle from one of the Pawnee tribe.
The second is in English Half Man, which seemed a singular name for a warrior,
till it was explained to have its origin, probably, in the modesty
of the chief, who, on being told of his exploits, would say, `I am
no warrior, I am only half a man.' The other chiefs spoke very little;
but after they had finished, one of the warriors delivered a speech,
in which he declared he would support them. They promised to make peace
with the Ottoes and Missouris, the only nations with whom they are at war.
All these harangues concluded by describing the distress of the nation:
they begged us to have pity on them; to send them traders; that they
wanted powder and ball; and seemed anxious that we should supply
them with some of their great father's milk, the name by which they
distinguish ardent spirits. We gave some tobacco to each of the chiefs,
and a certificate to two of the warriors who attended the chief We
prevailed on M. Durion [interpreter] to remain here, and accompany as
many of the Sioux chiefs as he could collect to the seat of government.
We also gave his son a flag, some clothes, and provisions, with directions
to bring about a peace between the surrounding tribes, and to convey
some of their chiefs to see the President.
"The Indians who have just left us are the Yanktons, a tribe of the great
nation of Sioux. These Yanktons are about two hundred men in number,
and inhabit the Jacques, Des Moines, and Sioux Rivers. In person they
are stout, well proportioned, and have a certain air of dignity and boldness.
In their dress they differ nothing from the other bands of the nation whom
we met afterwards."
Of the Sioux let us say here, there are many bands, or subdivisions.
Some writers make eighteen of these principal branches.
But the first importance is given to the Sioux proper,
or Dakotas. The name "Sioux" is one of reproach, given by their enemies,
and signifies "snake;" whereas "Dakota" means "friend" or "ally."
The Lewis and Clark journal says of the Yankton-Sioux:--
"What struck us most was an institution peculiar to them and to
the Kite (Crow) Indians further to the westward, from whom it is said
to have been copied. It is an association of the most active and brave
young men, who are bound to each other by attachment, secured by a vow,
never to retreat before any danger, or give way to their enemies.
In war they go forward without sheltering themselves behind trees, or aiding
their natural valor by any artifice. Their punctilious determination
not to be turned from their course became heroic, or ridiculous, a short
time since, when the Yanktons were crossing the Missouri on the ice.
A hole lay immediately in their course, which might easily have been
avoided by going around. This the foremost of the band disdained to do,
but went straight forward and was lost. The others would have followed
his example, but were forcibly prevented by the rest of the tribe.
These young men sit, camp, and dance together, distinct from the rest
of the nation; they are generally about thirty or thirty-five years old,
and such is the deference paid to courage that their seats in council
are superior to those of the chiefs and their persons more respected.
But, as may be supposed, such indiscreet bravery will soon
diminish the numbers of those who practise it; so that the band
is now reduced to four warriors, who were among our visitors.
These were the remains of twenty-two who composed the society not long ago;
but, in a battle with the Kite (Crow) Indians of the Black Mountains,
eighteen of them were killed, and these four were dragged from the field
by their companions."
Just above the site of the city of Yankton, and near
what is still known as Bon Homme Island, Captain Clark
explored a singular earth formation in a bend of the river.
This had all the appearance of an ancient fortification,
stretching across the bend and furnished with redoubts
and other features of a great fort. In the journal is given
a glowing account of the work and an elaborate map of the same.
Modern research, however, has proved that this strange
arrangement of walls and parapets is only a series of sand ridges
formed by the currents of the river and driftings of sand.
Many of these so-called earthworks are situated on the west
bank of the Upper Missouri, in North Dakota and South Dakota.
A few days later, the party saw a species of animal which they
described as "goats,"--very fleet, with short pronged horns inclining
backward, and with grayish hair, marked with white on the rump.
This creature, however, was the American antelope, then unknown
to science, and first described by Lewis and Clark. While visiting
a strange dome-shaped mountain, "resembling a cupola," and now known
as "the Tower," the explorers found the abode of another animal,
heretofore unknown to them. "About four acres of ground,"
says the journal, "was covered with small holes." The account continues:
"These are the residence of a little animal, called by the French
petit chien (little dog), which sit erect near the mouth, and make
a whistling noise, but, when alarmed, take refuge in their holes.
In order to bring them out we poured into one of the holes five barrels
of water without filling it, but we dislodged and caught the owner.
After digging down another of the holes for six feet, we found,
on running a pole into it, that we had not yet dug half-way to the bottom:
we discovered, however, two frogs in the hole, and near it we killed
a dark rattlesnake, which had swallowed a small prairie dog.
We were also informed, though we never witnessed the fact,
that a sort of lizard and a snake live habitually with these animals.
The petit chien are justly named, as they resemble a small dog
in some particulars, although they have also some points of similarity
to the squirrel. The head resembles the squirrel in every respect,
except that the ear is shorter; the tail like that of the ground squirrel;
the toe nails are long, the fur is fine, and the long hair is gray."
Great confusion has been caused in the minds of readers on account
of there being another burrowing animal, called by Lewis and Clark "the
burrowing squirrel," which resembles the petit chien in some respects.
But the little animal described here is now well known as the prairie-dog,--an
unfortunate and misleading name. It is in no sense a species of dog.
The creature commonly weighs about three pounds, and its note resembles that
of a toy-dog. It is a species of marmot; it subsists on grass roots and other
vegetable products; its flesh is delicate and, when fat, of good flavor.
The writer of these lines, when crossing the great plains, in early times,
found the "prairie-dogs" excellent eating, but difficult to kill;
they are expert at diving into their holes at the slightest signal of danger.
The following days they saw large herds of buffalo, and the copses
of timber appeared to contain elk and deer. "just below Cedar Island,"
adds the journal, "on a hill to the south, is the backbone of a fish,
forty-five feet long, tapering towards the tail, and in a perfect
state of petrifaction, fragments of which were collected
and sent to Washington." This was not a fish, but the fossil
remains of a reptile of one of the earliest geological periods.
Here, too, the party saw immense herds of buffalo, thousands in number,
some of which they killed for their meat and skins. They also
saw elk, deer, turkeys, grouse, beaver, and prairie-dogs. The journal
bitterly complains of the "moschetoes," which were very troublesome.
As mosquitoes we now know them.
Oddly enough, the journal sometimes speaks of "goats" and sometimes
of "antelopes," and the same animal is described in both instances.
Here is a good story of the fleetness of the beautiful creature:--
"Of all the animals we had seen, the antelope seems to possess the most
wonderful fleetness. Shy and timorous, they generally repose only on
the ridges, which command a view of all the approaches of an enemy:
the acuteness of their sight distinguishes the most distant danger;
the delicate sensibility of their smell defeats the precautions
of concealment; and, when alarmed, their rapid career seems
more like the flight of birds than the movements of a quadruped.
After many unsuccessful attempts, Captain Lewis at last, by winding
around the ridges, approached a party of seven, which were on
an eminence towards which the wind was unfortunately blowing.
The only male of the party frequently encircled the summit of the hill,
as if to announce any danger to the females, which formed a group at the top.
Although they did not see Captain Lewis, the smell alarmed them,
and they fled when he was at the distance of two hundred yards:
he immediately ran to the spot where they had been; a ravine concealed
them from him; but the next moment they appeared on a second ridge,
at the distance of three miles. He doubted whether they could be the same;
but their number, and the extreme rapidity with which they continued
their course, convinced him that they must have gone with a speed equal
to that of the most distinguished race-horse. Among our acquisitions
to-day were a mule-deer, a magpie, a common deer, and buffalo:
Captain Lewis also saw a hare, and killed a rattlesnake near the burrows
of the barking squirrels."
By "barking squirrels" the reader must understand that the animal better known
as the prairie-dog is meant; and the mule-deer, as the explorers called it,
was not a hybrid, but a deer with very long ears, better known afterwards
as the black-tailed deer."
At the Big Bend of the Missouri, in the heart of what is now South Dakota,
while camped on a sand-bar, the explorers had a startling experience.
"Shortly after midnight," says the journal, "the sleepers were startled by
the sergeant on guard crying out that the sand-bar was sinking, and the alarm
was timely given; for scarcely had they got off with the boats before the bank
under which they had been lying fell in; and by the time the opposite
shore was reached, the ground on which they had been encamped sunk also.
A man who was sent to step off the distance across the head of the bend,
made it but two thousand yards, while its circuit is thirty miles."
The next day, three Sioux boys swam the river and told them that two
parties of their nation, one of eighty lodges, and one of sixty lodges,
were camped up the river, waiting to have a palaver with the white explorers.
These were Teton Sioux, and the river named for them still bears that title.
From the Tetons to the Mandans
"On the morning of September 25th," says the journal,
"we raised a flagstaff and an awning, under which we assembled,
with all the party parading under arms. The chiefs and warriors,
from the camps two miles up the river, met us, about fifty
or sixty in number, and after smoking we delivered them a speech;
but as our Sioux interpreter, M. Durion, had been left with
the Yanktons, we were obliged to make use of a Frenchman who could
not speak fluently, and therefore we curtailed our harangue.
After this we went through the ceremony of acknowledging
the chiefs, by giving to the grand chief a medal, a flag of
the United States, a laced uniform coat, a cocked hat and feather;
to the two other chiefs, a medal and some small presents;
and to two warriors of consideration, certificates.
The name of the great chief is Untongasabaw, or Black Buffalo;
the second, Tortohonga, or the Partisan; the third, Tartongawaka,
or Buffalo Medicine; the name of one of the warriors was Wawzinggo;
that of the second, Matocoquepa, or Second Bear. We then invited
the chiefs on board, and showed them the boat, the air-gun, and such
curiosities as we thought might amuse them. In this we succeeded
too well; for, after giving them a quarter of a glass of whiskey,
which they seemed to like very much, and sucked the bottle,
it was with much difficulty that we could get rid of them.
They at last accompanied Captain Clark on shore, in a pirogue
with five men; but it seems they had formed a design to stop us;
for no sooner had the party landed than three of the Indians
seized the cable of the pirogue, and one of the soldiers
of the chief put his arms round the mast. The second chief,
who affected intoxication, then said that we should not go on;
that they had not received presents enough from us.
Captain Clark told him that he would not be prevented from going on;
that we were not squaws, but warriors; that we were sent
by our great father, who could in a moment exterminate them.
The chief replied that he too had warriors, and was proceeding
to offer personal violence to Captain Clark, who immediately drew
his sword, and made a signal to the boat to prepare for action.
The Indians, who surrounded him, drew their arrows from
their quivers, and were bending their bows, when the swivel
in the boat was instantly pointed towards them, and twelve
of our most determined men jumped into the pirogue and joined
Captain Clark. This movement made an impression on them,
for the grand chief ordered the young men away from the pirogue,
and they withdrew and held a short council with the warriors.
Being unwilling to irritate them, Captain Clark then went forward,
and offered his hand to the first and second chiefs, who refused
to take it. He then turned from them and got into the pirogue;
but he had not got more than ten paces, when both the chiefs and two
of the warriors waded in after him, and he brought them on board.
We then proceeded on for a mile, and anchored off a willow
island, which, from the circumstances which had just occurred,
we called Bad-humored Island."
The policy of firmness and gentleness, which Lewis and Clark always pursued
when treating with the Indians, had its good results at this time.
What might have been a bloody encounter was averted, and next day the Indians
contritely came into camp and asked that their squaws and children might
see the white men and their boats, which would be to them a novel sight.
This was agreed to, and after the expedition had sailed up the river
and had been duly admired by a great crowd of men, women, and children,
the Tetons invited the white men to a dance. The journal adds:--
"Captains Lewis and Clark, who went on shore one after the other, were met
on landing by ten well-dressed young men, who took them up in a robe
highly decorated and carried them to a large council-house, where they
were placed on a dressed buffalo-skin by the side of the grand chief.
The hall or council-room was in the shape of three-quarters of a circle,
covered at the top and sides with skins well dressed and sewed together.
Under this shelter sat about seventy men, forming a circle round the chief,
before whom were placed a Spanish flag and the one we had given
them yesterday. This left a vacant circle of about six feet diameter,
in which the pipe of peace was raised on two forked sticks, about six or eight
inches from the ground, and under it the down of the swan was scattered.
A large fire, in which they were cooking provisions, stood near, and in
the centre about four hundred pounds of buffalo meat as a present for us.
As soon as we were seated, an old man got up, and after approving
what we had done, begged us take pity on their unfortunate situation.
To this we replied with assurances of protection. After he had ceased,
the great chief rose and delivered a harangue to the same effect; then with
great solemnity he took some of the most delicate parts of the dog which
was cooked for the festival, and held it to the flag by way of sacrifice;
this done, he held up the pipe of peace, and first pointed it toward
the heavens, then to the four quarters of the globe, then to the earth,
made a short speech, lighted the pipe, and presented it to us.
We smoked, and he again harangued his people, after which the repast was
served up to us. It consisted of the dog which they had just been cooking,
this being a great dish among the Sioux, and used on all festivals;
to this were added pemitigon, a dish made of buffalo meat, dried or jerked,
and then pounded and mixed raw with grease and a kind of ground potato,
dressed like the preparation of Indian corn called hominy, to which it
is little inferior. Of all these luxuries, which were placed before us
in platters with horn spoons, we took the pemitigon and the potato,
which we found good, but we could as yet partake but sparingly of the dog."
The "pemitigon" mentioned here is better known as pemmican,
a sort of dried meat, which may be eaten as prepared,
or pounded fine and cooked with other articles of food.
This festival concluded with a grand dance, which at midnight
wound up the affair.
As the description of these Tetons, given by Lewis and Clark, will give
the reader a good idea of the manners, customs, and personal appearance
of most of the Sioux nation, we will copy the journal in full.
It is as follows:
"The tribe which we this day saw are a part of the great Sioux nation,
and are known by the name of the Teton Okandandas: they are about
two hundred men in number, and their chief residence is on both sides
of the Missouri, between the Chayenne and Teton Rivers. In their
persons they are rather ugly and ill-made, their legs and arms being
too small, their cheek-bones high, and their eyes projecting.
The females, with the same character of form, are more handsome;
and both sexes appear cheerful and sprightly; but in our intercourse
with them we discovered that they were cunning and vicious.
"The men shave the hair off their heads, except a small tuft
on the top, which they suffer to grow, and wear in plaits over
the shoulders; to this they seem much attached, as the loss
of it is the usual sacrifice at the death of near relations.
In full dress, the men of consideration wear a hawk's feather,
or calumet feather worked with porcupine quills, and fastened
to the top of the head, from which it falls back. The face
and body are generally painted with a mixture of grease and coal.
Over the shoulders is a loose robe or mantle of buffalo skin
dressed white, adorned with porcupine quills, loosely fixed,
so as to make a jingling noise when in motion, and painted
with various uncouth figures, unintelligible to us, but to them
emblematic of military exploits or any other incident:
the hair of the robe is worn next the skin in fair weather,
but when it rains the hair is put outside, and the robe
is either thrown over the arm or wrapped round the body,
all of which it may cover. Under this, in the winter season,
they wear a kind of shirt resembling ours, made either
of skin or cloth, and covering the arms and body.
Round the middle is fixed a girdle of cloth, or procured
dressed elk-skin, about an inch in width, and closely tied
to the body; to this is attached a piece of cloth, or blanket,
or skin, about a foot wide, which passes between the legs,
and is tucked under the girdle both before and behind.
From the hip to the ankle is covered by leggins of dressed
antelope skins, with seams at the sides two inches in width,
and ornamented by little tufts of hair, the produce of the scalps
they have made in war, which are scattered down the leg.
The winter moccasins are of dressed buffalo skin, the hair
being worn inward, and soled with thick elk-skin parchment;
those for summer are of deer or elk-skin, dressed without
the hair, and with soles of elk-skin. On great occasions,
or whenever they are in full dress, the young men drag after them
the entire skin of a polecat fixed to the heel of the moccasin.
Another skin of the same animal, either tucked into the girdle
or carried in the hand, serves as a pouch for their tobacco,
or what the French traders call bois roule. This is the inner
bark of a species of red willow, which, being dried in the sun
or over the fire, is, rubbed between the hands and broken
into small pieces, and used alone or mixed with tobacco.
The pipe is generally of red earth, the stem made of ash,
about three or four feet long, and highly decorated with feathers,
hair, and porcupine-quills.
 This is bois roule, or "rolled wood," a poor kind of tobacco
rolled with various kinds of leaves, such as the sumach and dogwood.
The Indian name is kinnikinick.
. . . . . . . . .
"While on shore to-day we witnessed a quarrel between two squaws,
which appeared to be growing every moment more boisterous, when a man
came forward, at whose approach every one seemed terrified and ran.
He took the squaws and without any ceremony whipped them severely.
On inquiring into the nature of such summary justice, we learned
that this man was an officer well known to this and many other tribes.
His duty is to keep the peace, and the whole interior police of the village
is confided to two or three of these officers, who are named by the chief
and remain in power some days, at least till the chief appoints a successor.
They seem to be a sort of constable or sentinel, since they are always on the
watch to keep tranquillity during the day and guard the camp in the night.
The short duration of the office is compensated by its authority.
His power is supreme, and in the suppression of any riot or
disturbance no resistance to him is suffered; his person is sacred,
and if in the execution of his duty he strikes even a chief of
the second class, he cannot be punished for this salutary insolence.
In general he accompanies the person of the chief, and when ordered
to any duty, however dangerous, it is a point of honor rather to die
than to refuse obedience. Thus, when they attempted to stop us yesterday,
the chief ordered one of these men to take possession of the boat;
he immediately put his arms around the mast, and, as we understood, no force
except the command of the chief would have induced him to release his hold.
Like the other men his body is blackened, but his distinguishing mark
is a collection of two or three raven-skins fixed to the girdle behind
the back in such a way that the tails stick out horizontally from the body.
On his head, too, is a raven-skin split into two parts, and tied
so as to let the beak project from the forehead."
When the party of explorers subsequently made ready to leave,
signs of reluctance to have them go were apparent among
the Indians. Finally, several of the chief warriors sat on the rope
that held the boat to the shore. Irritated by this, Captain Lewis
got ready to fire upon the warriors, but, anxious to avoid bloodshed,
he gave them more tobacco, which they wanted, and then said
to the chief, "You have told us that you were a great man,
and have influence; now show your influence by taking the rope
from those men, and we will then go on without further trouble."
This appeal to the chieftain's pride had the desired effect.
The warriors were compelled to give up the rope, which was
delivered on board, and the party set sail with a fresh breeze
from the southeast.
The explorers were soon out of the country of the Teton Sioux
and into that of the Ricaras, or, as these Indians are more
commonly called, the Rickarees.
On the first day of October they passed the mouth of a river incorrectly
known as Dog River, as if corrupted from the French word chien.
But the true name is Cheyenne, from the Indians who bear that title.
The stream rises in the region called the Black Mountains
by Lewis and Clark, on account of the great quantity of dark
cedar and pine trees that covered the hills. This locality is
now known as the Black Hills, in the midst of which is the famous
mining district of Deadwood. In these mountains, according to
Lewis and Clark, were to be found "great quantities of goats,
white bear, prairie cocks, and a species of animal which resembled
a small elk, with large circular horns." By the "white bear"
the reader must understand that the grizzly bear is meant.
Although this animal, which was first discovered and described
by Lewis and Clark, is commonly referred to in the earlier pages
of the journal as "white," the error naturally came from a desire
to distinguish it from the black and the cinnamon-colored bears.
Afterwards, the journal refers to this formidable creature as the grizzly,
and again as the grisly. Certainly, the bear was a grizzled gray;
but the name "grisly," that is to say, horrible, or frightful,
fitted him very well. The Latin name, ursus horribilis
is not unlike one of those of Lewis and Clark's selection.
The animals with circular curled horns, which the explorers thought
resembled a small elk, are now known as the Rocky Mountain sheep,
or bighorn. They very little resemble sheep, however, except in color,
head, horns, and feet. They are now so scarce as to be almost extinct.
They were among the discoveries of Lewis and Clark. The prairie
cock is known to western sportsmen as "prairie chicken;"
it is a species of grouse.
It was now early in October, and the weather became very cool.
So great is the elevation of those regions that, although the days
might be oppressively warm, the nights were cold and white frosts
were frequent. Crossing the Rocky Mountains at the South Pass,
far south of Lewis and Clark's route, emigrants who suffered from
intense heat during the middle of day found water in their pails
frozen solid in the morning.
The Rickarees were very curious and inquisitive regarding the white men.
But the journal adds: "The object which appeared to astonish the Indians
most was Captain Clark's servant York, a remarkably stout, strong negro.
They had never seen a being of that color, and therefore flocked round him
to examine the extraordinary monster. By way of amusement, he told them
that he had once been a wild animal, and been caught and tamed by his master;
and to convince them, showed them feats of strength which, added to his looks,
made him more terrible than we wished him to be."
"On October 10th," says the journal, "the weather was fine,
and as we were desirous of assembling the whole nation at once,
we despatched Mr. Gravelines (a trader)--who, with Mr. Tabeau,
another French trader, had breakfasted with us--to invite
the chiefs of the two upper villages to a conference.
They all assembled at one o'clock, and after the usual ceremonies
we addressed them in the same way in which we had already spoken
to the Ottoes and Sioux. We then made or acknowledged three chiefs,
one for each of the three villages; giving to each a flag,
a medal, a red coat, a cocked hat and feather, also some goods,
paint and tobacco, which they divided among themselves.
After this the air-gun was exhibited, very much to
their astonishment, nor were they less surprised at the color
and manner of York. On our side we were equally gratified
at discovering that these Ricaras made use of no spirituous
liquors of any kind, the example of the traders who bring it
to them, so far from tempting, having in fact disgusted them.
Supposing that it was as agreeable to them as to the other Indians,
we had at first offered them whiskey; but they refused it with this
sensible remark, that they were surprised that their father
should present to them a liquor which would make them fools.
On another occasion they observed to Mr. Tabeau that no man could
be their friend who tried to lead them into such follies."
Presents were exchanged by the Indians and the white men;
among the gifts from the former was a quantity of a large,
rich bean, which grows wild and is collected by mice.
The Indians hunt for the mice's deposits and cook and eat them.
The Rickarees had a grand powwow with the white chiefs and,
after accepting presents, agreed to preserve peace with all men,
red or white. On the thirteenth of the month the explorers
discovered a stream which they named Stone-Idol Creek,
on account of two stones, resembling human figures,
which adorn its banks. The creek is now known as Spring River,
and is in Campbell County, South Dakota. Concerning the stone
images the Indians gave this tradition:--
"A young man was deeply enamoured with a girl whose parents refused
their consent to the marriage. The youth went out into the fields
to mourn his misfortunes; a sympathy of feeling led the lady to the
same spot, and the faithful dog would not cease to follow his master.
After wandering together and having nothing but grapes to subsist on,
they were at last converted into stone, which, beginning at the feet,
gradually invaded the nobler parts, leaving nothing unchanged but
a bunch of grapes which the female holds in her hand to this day.
Whenever the Ricaras pass these sacred stones, they stop to make some
offering of dress to propitiate these deities. Such is the account
given by the Ricara chief, which we had no mode of examining,
except that we found one part of the story very agreeably confirmed;
for on the river near where the event is said to have occurred we
found a greater abundance of fine grapes than we had yet seen."
While at their last camp in the country now known as South Dakota, October 14,
1804, one of the soldiers, tried by a court-martial for mutinous conduct,
was sentenced to receive seventy-five lashes on the bare back.
The sentence was carried out then and there. The Rickaree chief,
who accompanied the party for a time, was so affected by the sight
that he cried aloud during the whole proceeding. When the reasons
for the punishment were explained to him, he acknowledged the justice
of the sentence, but said he would have punished the offender with death.
His people, he added, never whip even their children at any age whatever.
On the eighteenth of October, the party reached Cannonball River,
which rises in the Black Hills and empties in the Missouri
in Morton County, North Dakota. Its name is derived from the
perfectly round, smooth, black stones that line its bed and shores.
Here they saw great numbers of antelope and herds of buffalo,
and of elk. They killed six fallow deer; and next day they counted
fifty-two herds of buffalo and three herds of elk at one view;
they also observed deer, wolves, and pelicans in large numbers.
The ledges in the bluffs along the river often held nests of the calumet bird,
or golden eagle. These nests, which are apparently resorted to, year after
year, by the same pair of birds, are usually out of reach, except by means
of ropes by which the hunters are let down from the cliffs overhead.
The tail-feathers of the bird are twelve in number, about a foot long,
and are pure white except at the tip, which is jet-black. So highly prized
are these by the Indians that they have been known to exchange a good horse
for two feathers.
The party saw here a great many elk, deer, antelope, and buffalo,
and these last were dogged along their way by wolves who follow them to feed
upon those that die by accident, or are too weak to keep up with the herd.
Sometimes the wolves would pounce upon a calf, too young and feeble
to trot with the other buffalo; and although the mother made an effort
to save her calf, the creature was left to the hungry wolves, the herd
moving along without delay.
On the twenty-first of October, the explorers reached a creek
to which the Indians gave the name of Chisshetaw, now known as
Heart River, which, rising in Stark County, North Dakota, and running
circuitously through Morton County, empties into the Missouri opposite
the city of Bismarck. At this point the Northern Pacific Railway
now crosses the Missouri; and here, where is built the capital
of North Dakota, began, in those days, a series of Mandan villages,
with the people of which the explorers were to become tolerably
well acquainted; for it had been decided that the increasing
cold of the weather would compel them to winter in this region.
But they were as yet uncertain as to the exact locality at which they
would build their camp of winter. Here they met one of the grand
chiefs of the Mandans, who was on a hunting excursion with his braves.
This chief greeted with much ceremony the Rickaree chief who
accompanied the exploring party. The Mandans and Rickarees were
ancient enemies, but, following the peaceful councils of the white men,
the chiefs professed amity and smoked together the pipe of peace.
A son of the Mandan chief was observed to have lost both of his
little fingers, and when the strangers asked how this happened,
they were told that the fingers had been cut off (according to
the Mandan custom) to show the grief of the young man at the loss
of some of his relations.
Winter among the Mandans
Before finally selecting the spot on which to build their
winter quarters, Lewis and Clark held councils with the chiefs
of the tribes who were to be their neighbors during the cold season.
These were Mandans, Annahaways, and Minnetarees, tribes living
peacefully in the same region of country. The principal Mandan chief
was Black Cat; White Buffalo Robe Unfolded represented the Annahaways,
and the Minnetaree chief was Black Moccasin. This last-named chief
could not come to the council, but was represented by Caltahcota,
or Cherry on a Bush. The palaver being over, presents were distributed.
The account says:--
"One chief of each town was acknowledged by a gift of a flag,
a medal with the likeness of the President of the United States,
a uniform coat, hat and feather. To the second chiefs we gave
a medal representing some domestic animals and a loom for weaving;
to the third chiefs, medals with the impressions of a farmer sowing grain.
A variety of other presents were distributed, but none seemed to give them
more satisfaction than an iron corn-mill which we gave to the Mandans.
. . . . . . . . .
In the evening the prairie took fire, either by accident or design,
and burned with great fury, the whole plain being enveloped in flames.
So rapid was its progress that a man and a woman were burned to death before
they could reach a place of safety; another man, with his wife and child,
were much burned, and several other persons narrowly escaped destruction.
Among the rest, a boy of the half white breed escaped unhurt in the midst
of the flames; his safety was ascribed to the great medicine spirit,
who had preserved him on account of his being white. But a much more
natural cause was the presence of mind of his mother, who, seeing no hopes
of carrying off her son, threw him on the ground, and, covering him
with the fresh hide of a buffalo, escaped herself from the flames.
As soon as the fire had passed, she returned and found him untouched,
the skin having prevented the flame from reaching the grass on which he lay."
Next day, says the journal,--
"We were visited by two persons from the lower village:
one, the Big White, the chief of the village; the other,
the Chayenne, called the Big Man: they had been hunting,
and did not return yesterday early enough to attend the council.
At their request we repeated part of our speech of yesterday,
and put the medal round the neck of the chief. Captain Clark
took a pirogue and went up the river in search of a good
wintering-place, and returned after going seven miles to the lower
point of an island on the north side, about one mile in length.
He found the banks on the north side high, with coal occasionally,
and the country fine on all sides; but the want of wood,
and the scarcity of game up the river, induced us to decide
on fixing ourselves lower down during the winter.
In the evening our men danced among themselves, to the great
amusement of the Indians."
It may be said here that the incident of a life saved from
fire by a raw-hide, originally related by Lewis and Clark,
is the foundation of a great many similar stories of adventures
among the Indians. Usually, however, it is a wise and well-seasoned
white trapper who saves his life by this device.
Having found a good site for their winter camp, the explorers now
built a number of huts, which they called Fort Mandan. The place
was on the north bank of the Missouri River, in what is now
McLean County, North Dakota, about sixteen hundred miles up
the river from St. Louis, and seven or eight miles below
the mouth of Big Knife River. On the opposite bank, years later,
the United States built a military post known as Fort Clark,
which may be found on some of the present-day maps.
The huts were built of logs, and were arranged in two rows,
four rooms in each hut, the whole number being placed in the form
of an angle, with a stockade, or picket, across the two outer
ends of the angle, in which was a gate, kept locked at night.
The roofs of the huts slanted upward from the inner side of
the rows, making the outer side of each hut eighteen feet high;
and the lofts of these were made warm and comfortable with dry
grass mixed with clay, Here they were continually visited
during the winter by Indians from all the region around.
Here, too, they secured the services of an interpreter,
one Chaboneau, who continued with them to the end.
This man's wife, Sacajawea, whose Indian name was translated
"Bird Woman," had been captured from the Snake Indians and sold
to Chaboneau, who married her. She was "a good creature,
of a mild and gentle disposition, greatly attached to the whites."
In the expedition she proved herself more valuable to the explorers
than her husband, and Lewis and Clark always speak of her in terms
of respect and admiration.
It should not be understood that all the interpreters
employed by white men on such expeditions wholly knew
the spoken language of the tribes among whom they travelled.
To some extent they relied upon the universal language of signs
to make themselves understood, and this method of talking
is known to all sorts and kinds of Indians. Thus, two fingers
of the right hand placed astraddle the wrist of the left hand
signifies a man on horseback; and the number of men on horseback
is quickly added by holding up the requisite number of fingers.
Sleep is described by gently inclining the head on the hand,
and the number of "sleeps," or nights, is indicated by the fingers.
Killed, or dead, is described by closed eyes and a sudden
fall of the head on the talker's chest; and so on, an easily
understood gesture, with a few Indian words, being sufficient
to tell a long story very clearly.
Lewis and Clark discovered here a species of ermine before
unknown to science. They called it "a weasel, perfectly white
except at the extremity of the tail, which was black."
This animal, highly prized on account of its pretty fur,
was not scientifically described until as late as 1829.
It is a species of stoat.
The wars of some of the Indian tribes gave Lewis and Clark much trouble
and uneasiness. The Sioux were at war with the Minnetarees (Gros Ventres,
or Big Bellies); and the Assiniboins, who lived further to the north,
continually harassed the Sioux and the Mandans, treating these as
the latter did the Rickarees. The white chiefs had their hands full
all winter while trying to preserve peace among these quarrelsome and
thieving tribes, their favorite game being to steal each other's horses.
The Indian method of caring for their horses in the cold winter was
to let them shift for themselves during the day, and to take them
into their own lodges at night where they were fed with the juicy,
brittle twigs of the cottonwood tree. With this spare fodder the animals
thrive and keep their coats fine and glossy.
Late in November, a collision between the Sioux and the Mandans became
almost certain, in consequence of the Sioux having attacked a small hunting
party of the Mandans, killing one, wounding two, and capturing nine horses.
Captain Clark mustered and armed twenty-four of his men, crossed over into
the Mandan village and offered to lead the Indians against their enemies.
The offer was declined on account of the deep snows which prevented a march;
but the incident made friends for white men, and the tidings of it had
a wholesome effect on the other tribes.
"The whole religion of the Mandans," like that of many other savage tribes,
says the journal, "consists in the belief of one Great Spirit presiding over
their destinies. This Being must be in the nature of a good genius, since it
is associated with the healing art, and `great spirit' is synonymous with
`great medicine,' a name applied to everything which they do not comprehend.
Each individual selects for himself the particular object of his devotion,
which is termed his medicine, and is either some invisible being,
or more commonly some animal, which thenceforward becomes his protector
or his intercessor with the Great Spirit, to propitiate whom every
attention is lavished and every personal consideration is sacrificed.
`I was lately owner of seventeen horses,' said a Mandan to us one day, `but I
have offered them all up to my medicine and am now poor.' He had in reality
taken all his wealth, his horses, into the plain, and, turning them loose,
committed them to the care of his medicine and abandoned them forever.
The horses, less religious, took care of themselves, and the pious votary
travelled home on foot."
To this day, all the Northwest Indians speak of anything that is highly
useful or influential as "great medicine."
One cold December day, a Mandan chief invited the explorers to join
them in a grand buffalo hunt. The journal adds:--
"Captain Clark with fifteen men went out and found the Indians
engaged in killing buffalo. The hunters, mounted on horseback
and armed with bows and arrows, encircle the herd and gradually drive
them into a plain or an open place fit for the movements of horse;
they then ride in among them, and singling out a buffalo,
a female being preferred, go as close as possible and wound her
with arrows till they think they have given the mortal stroke;
when they pursue another, till the quiver is exhausted.
If, which rarely happens, the wounded buffalo attacks
the hunter, he evades his blow by the agility of his horse,
which is trained for the combat with great dexterity.
When they have killed the requisite number they collect their game,
and the squaws and attendants come up from the rear and skin
and dress the animals. Captain Clark killed ten buffalo,
of which five only were brought to the fort; the rest, which could
not be conveyed home, being seized by the Indians, among whom
the custom is that whenever a buffalo is found dead without
an arrow or any particular mark, he is the property of the finder;
so that often a hunter secures scarcely any of the game he kills,
if the arrow happens to fall off."
The weather now became excessively cold, the mercury often going thirty-two
degrees below zero. Notwithstanding this, however, the Indians kept up
their outdoor sports, one favorite game of which resembled billiards.
But instead of a table, the players had an open flooring, about fifty
yards long, and the balls were rings of stone, shot along the flooring
by means of sticks like billiard-cues. The white men had their sports,
and they forbade the Indians to visit them on Christmas Day,
as this was one of their "great medicine days." The American flag
was hoisted on the fort and saluted with a volley of musketry.
The men danced among themselves; their best provisions were brought
out and "the day passed," says the journal, "in great festivity."
The party also celebrated New Year's Day by similar festivities.
Sixteen of the men were given leave to go up to the first Mandan
village with their musical instruments, where they delighted the whole
tribe with their dances, one of the French voyageurs being especially
applauded when he danced on his hands with his head downwards.
The dancers and musicians were presented with several buffalo-robes
and a large quantity of Indian corn. The cold grew more intense, and on
the tenth of the month the mercury stood at forty degrees below zero.
Some of the men were badly frost-bitten, and a young Indian, about thirteen
years old, who had been lost in the snows, came into the fort.
The journal says:--
"His father, who came last night to inquire after him very anxiously,
had sent him in the afternoon to the fort; he was overtaken
by the night, and was obliged to sleep on the snow with no
covering except a pair of antelope-skin moccasins and leggins,
and a buffalo-robe. His feet being frozen, we put them into cold water,
and gave him every attention in our power. About the same time
an Indian who had also been missing returned to the fort.
Although his dress was very thin, and he had slept on the snow
without a fire, he had not suffered the slightest inconvenience.
We have indeed observed that these Indians support the rigors
of the season in a way which we had hitherto thought impossible.
A more pleasing reflection occurred at seeing the warm interest
which the situation of these two persons had excited in the village.
The boy had been a prisoner, and adopted from charity; yet the distress
of the father proved that he felt for him the tenderest affection.
The man was a person of no distinction, yet the whole village
was full of anxiety for his safety; and, when they came to us,
borrowed a sleigh to bring them home with ease if they
had survived, or to carry their bodies if they had perished.
. . . . . . . . .
January 13. Nearly one half of the Mandan nation passed down the river
to hunt for several days. In these excursions, men, women, and children,
with their dogs, all leave the village together, and, after discovering a spot
convenient for the game, fix their tents; all the family bear their part in
the labor, and the game is equally divided among the families of the tribe.
When a single hunter returns from the chase with more than is necessary
for his own immediate consumption, the neighbors are entitled by custom
to a share of it: they do not, however, ask for it, but send a squaw, who,
without saying anything, sits down by the door of the lodge till the master
understands the hint, and gives her gratuitously a part for her family."
By the end of January, 1805, the weather had so far moderated that the
explorers thought they might cut their boats from the ice in the river
and prepare to resume their voyage; but the ice being three feet thick,
they made no progress and were obliged to give up the attempt.
Their stock of meat was low, although they had had good success when the cold
was not too severe to prevent them from hunting deer, elk, and buffalo.
The Mandans, who were careless in providing food for future supplies,
also suffered for want of meat, sometimes going for days without flesh food.
Captain Clark and eighteen men went down the river in search of game.
The hunters, after being out nine days, returned and reported
that they had killed forty deer, three buffalo, and sixteen elk.
But much of the game was lean and poor, and the wolves, who devour
everything left out at night, had stolen a quantity of the flesh.
Four men, with sleds, were sent out to bring into camp the meat,
which had been secured against wolves by being stored in pens.
These men were attacked by Sioux, about one hundred in number,
who robbed them of their game and two of their three horses.
Captain Lewis, with twenty-four men, accompanied by some of the Mandans,
set out in pursuit of the marauders. They were unsuccessful, however, but,
having found a part of their game untouched, they brought it back,
and this, with other game killed after their chase of the Sioux,
gave them three thousand pounds of meat; they had killed thirty-six deer,
fourteen elk, and one wolf.
By the latter part of February, the party were able to get
their boats from the ice. These were dragged ashore,
and the work of making them ready for their next voyage was begun.
As the ice in the river began to break up, the Mandans had great sport
chasing across the floating cakes of ice the buffalo who were tempted
over by the appearance of green, growing grass on the other side.
The Indians were very expert in their pursuit of the animals,
which finally slipped from their insecure footing on the drifting ice,
and were killed.
At this point, April 7, 1805, the escorting party, the voyageurs,
and one interpreter, returned down the river in their barge.
This party consisted of thirteen persons, all told,
and to them were intrusted several packages of specimens
for President Jefferson, with letters and official reports.
The presents for Mr. Jefferson, according to the journal,
"consisted of a stuffed male and female antelope, with their skeletons,
a weasel, three squirrels from the Rocky Mountains, the skeleton
of a prairie wolf, those of a white and gray hare, a male
and female blaireau, [badger] or burrowing dog of the prairie,
with a skeleton of the female, two burrowing squirrels,
a white weasel, and the skin of the louservia [loup-servier,
or lynx], the horns of a mountain ram, or big-horn, a pair
of large elk horns, the horns and tail of a black-tailed deer,
and a variety of skins, such as those of the red fox,
white hare, marten, yellow bear, obtained from the Sioux;
also a number of articles of Indian dress, among which was
a buffalo robe representing a battle fought about eight years
since between the Sioux and Ricaras against the Mandans
and Minnetarees, in which the combatants are represented on
horseback. . . . Such sketches, rude and imperfect as they are,
delineate the predominant character of the savage nations.
If they are peaceable and inoffensive, the drawings usually
consist of local scenery and their favorite diversions.
If the band are rude and ferocious, we observe tomahawks,
scalping-knives, bows and arrows, and all the engines
of destruction.--A Mandan bow, and quiver of arrows;
also some Ricara tobacco-seed, and an ear of Mandan corn:
to these were added a box of plants, another of insects,
and three cases containing a burrowing squirrel, a prairie hen,
and four magpies, all alive." . . .
The articles reached Mr. Jefferson safely and were long on view at his
Virginia residence, Monticello. They were subsequently dispersed,
and some found their way to Peale's Museum, Philadelphia. Dr. Cones,
the zealous editor of the latest and fullest edition of Lewis and
Clark's narrative, says that some of the specimens of natural history
were probably extant in 1893.
From Fort Mandan to the Yellowstone
Up to this time, the expedition had passed through regions from
which vague reports had been brought by the few white men who,
as hunters and trappers in pursuit of fur-bearing game,
had dared to venture into these trackless wildernesses.
Now they were to launch out into the mysterious unknown,
from which absolutely no tidings had ever been brought by white men.
The dim reports of Indians who had hunted through some parts
of the region were unreliable, and, as they afterwards proved,
were often as absurdly false as if they had been fairy tales.
Here, too, they parted from some of their comrades who were to return
to "the United States," as the explorers fondly termed their native country,
although the strange lands through which they were voyaging were now a part
of the American Republic. The despatches sent to Washington by these men
contained the first official report from Lewis and Clark since their departure
from St. Louis, May 16, 1803; and they were the last word from the explorers
until their return in September, 1806. During all that long interval,
the adventurers were not heard of in the States. No wonder that croakers
declared that the little party had been cut off to perish miserably
in the pathless woods that cover the heart of the continent.
But they set out on the long journey with light hearts.
In his journal, whose spelling and punctuation are not always
models for the faithful imitation of school-boys, Captain Lewis
set down this observation:--
"Our vessels consisted of six small canoes, and two large perogues.
This little fleet altho' not quite so rispectable as those of Columbus
or Capt. Cook, were still viewed by us with as much pleasure as
those deservedly famed adventurers ever beheld theirs; and I dare
say with quite as much anxiety for their safety and preservation.
we were now about to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles
in width, on which the foot of civilized man had never trodden;
the good or evil it had in store for us was for experiment yet
to determine, and these little vessells contained every article
by which we were to expect to subsist or defend ourselves.
however as the state of mind in which we are, generally gives the colouring
to events, when the immagination is suffered to wander into futurity,
the picture which now presented itself to me was a most pleasing one.
entertaing as I do the most confident hope of succeeding in a voyage
which had formed a darling project of mine for the last ten years,
I could but esteem this moment of our departure as among the most happy
of my life."
The barge sent down the river to St. Louis was in command
of Corporal Wharfington; and with him were six private soldiers,
two French voyageurs, Joseph Gravelines (pilot and interpreter),
and Brave Raven, a Ricara (or Arikara) chief who was to be
escorted to Washington to visit the President. The party
was also intrusted with sundry gifts for the President,
among them being natural history specimens, living and dead,
and a number of Indian articles which would be objects of
curiosity in Washington.
The long voyage of the main party began on the 8th of April,
1805, early passing the mouth of the Big Knife River,
one of the five considerable streams that fall into the Missouri
from the westward in this region; the other streams are the Owl,
the Grand, the Cannonball, and the Heart. The large town
of Stanton, Mercer County, North Dakota, is now situated
at the mouth of the Big Knife. The passage of the party up
the river was slow, owing to unfavorable winds; and they observed
along the banks many signs of early convulsions of nature.
The earth of the bluffs was streaked with layers of coal,
or carbonized wood, and large quantities of lava and pumice-stone
were strewn around, showing traces of ancient volcanic action.
The journal of April 9 says:--
"A great number of brants [snow-geese] pass up the river;
some of them are perfectly white, except the large feathers
of the first joint of the wing, which are black, though in
every other characteristic they resemble common gray brant.
We also saw but could not procure an animal [gopher] that
burrows in the ground, and is similar in every respect to the
burrowing-squirrel, except that it is only one-third of its size.
This may be the animal whose works we have often seen
in the plains and prairies; they resemble the labors of the
salamander in the sand-hills of South Carolina and Georgia,
and like him the animals rarely come above ground; they consist
of a little hillock of ten or twelve pounds of loose ground,
which would seem to have been reversed from a pot, though no
aperture is seen through which it could have been thrown.
On removing gently the earth, you discover that the soil has
been broken in a circle of about an inch and a half diameter,
where the ground is looser, though still no opening is perceptible.
When we stopped for dinner the squaw [Sacajawea] went out,
and after penetrating with a sharp stick the holes of the mice
[gophers], near some drift-wood, brought to us a quantity of
wild artichokes, which the mice collect and hoard in large numbers.
The root is white, of an ovate form, from one to three inches long,
and generally of the size of a man's finger, and two, four,
and sometimes six roots are attached to a single stalk.
Its flavor as well as the stalk which issues from it resemble
those of the Jerusalem artichoke, except that the latter
is much larger."
The weather rapidly grew so warm, although this was early
in April, that the men worked half-naked during the day;
and they were very much annoyed by clouds of mosquitoes.
They found that the hillsides and even the banks of the rivers
and sand-bars were covered with "a white substance, which appears
in considerable quantities on the surface of the earth,
and tastes like a mixture of common salt with Glauber's salts."
"Many of the streams," the journal adds, "are so strongly
impregnated with this substance that the water has an
unpleasant taste and a purgative effect." This is nothing
more than the so-called alkali which has since become known
all over the farthest West. It abounds in the regions west
of Salt Lake Valley, whitening vast areas like snow and poisoning
the waters so that the traveller often sees the margins
of the brown pools lined with skeletons and bodies of small
animals whose thirst had led them to drink the deadly fluid.
Men and animals stiffer from smaller doses of this stuff,
which is largely a sulphate of soda, and even in small quantities
is harmful to the system.
Here, on the twelfth of April, they were able to determine the exact course
of the Little Missouri, a stream about which almost nothing was then known.
Near here, too, they found the source of the Mouse River, only a few
miles from the Missouri. The river, bending to the north and then making
many eccentric curves, finally empties into Lake Winnipeg, and so passes
into the great chain of northern lakes in British America. At this
point the explorers saw great flocks of the wild Canada goose.
The journal says:--
"These geese, we observe, do not build their nests on the ground
or in the sand-bars, but in the tops of the lofty cottonwood trees.
We saw some elk and buffalo to-day, but at too great a distance
to obtain any of them, though a number of the carcasses of
the latter animal are strewed along the shore, having fallen
through the ice and been swept along when the river broke up.
More bald eagles are seen on this part of the Missouri than
we have previously met with; the small sparrow-hawk, common
in most parts of the United States, is also found here.
Great quantities of geese are feeding on the prairies,
and one flock of white brant, or geese with black-tipped wings,
and some gray brant with them, pass up the river; from their
flight they seem to proceed much further to the northwest.
We killed two antelopes, which were very lean, and caught
last night two beavers."
Lewis and Clark were laughed at by some very knowing people
who scouted the idea that wild geese build their nests in trees.
But later travellers have confirmed their story;
the wise geese avoid foxes and other of their four-footed
enemies by fixing their homes in the tall cottonwoods.
In other words, they roost high.
The Assiniboins from the north had lately been on
their spring hunting expeditions through this region,--
just above the Little Missouri,--and game was scarce and shy.
The journal, under the date of April 14, says:--
"One of the hunters shot at an otter last evening; a buffalo was killed,
and an elk, both so poor as to be almost unfit for use; two white [grizzly]
bears were also seen, and a muskrat swimming across the river. The river
continues wide and of about the same rapidity as the ordinary current
of the Ohio. The low grounds are wide, the moister parts containing timber;
the upland is extremely broken, without wood, and in some places seems
as if it had slipped down in masses of several acres in surface.
The mineral appearance of salts, coal, and sulphur, with the burnt hill
and pumice-stone, continue, and a bituminous water about the color of
strong lye, with the taste of Glauber's salts and a slight tincture of alum.
Many geese were feeding in the prairies, and a number of magpies,
which build their nests much like those of the blackbird, in trees,
and composed of small sticks, leaves, and grass, open at the top;
the egg is of a bluish-brown color, freckled with reddish-brown spots.
We also killed a large hooting-owl resembling that of the United States
except that it was more booted and clad with feathers. On the hills
are many aromatic herbs, resembling in taste, smell, and appearance
the sage, hyssop, wormwood, southernwood, juniper, and dwarf cedar; a plant
also about two or three feet high, similar to the camphor in smell and taste;
and another plant of the same size, with a long, narrow, smooth, soft leaf,
of an agreeable smell and flavor, which is a favorite food of the antelope,
whose necks are often perfumed by rubbing against it."
What the journalist intended to say here was that at least
one of the aromatic herbs resembled sage, hyssop, wormwood,
and southernwood, and that there were junipers and dwarf cedars.
The pungent-smelling herb was the wild sage, now celebrated
in stories of adventure as the sage-brush. It grows abundantly
in the alkali country, and is browsed upon by a species
of grouse known as the sage-hen. Junipers and dwarf cedars
also grow on the hills of the alkali and sage-brush country.
The sage belongs to the Artemisia family of plants.
Four days later, the journal had this interesting entry:
"The country to-day presented the usual variety of highlands
interspersed with rich plains. In one of these we observed
a species of pea bearing a yellow flower, which is now
in blossom, the leaf and stalk resembling the common pea.
It seldom rises higher than six inches, and the root is perennial.
On the rose-bushes we also saw a quantity of the hair of a buffalo,
which had become perfectly white by exposure and resembled the wool
of the sheep, except that it was much finer and more soft and silky.
A buffalo which we killed yesterday had shed his long hair,
and that which remained was about two inches long,
thick, fine, and would have furnished five pounds of wool,
of which we have no doubt an excellent cloth may be made.
Our game to-day was a beaver, a deer, an elk, and some geese. . . .
"On the hills we observed considerable quantities of dwarf juniper,
which seldom grows higher than three feet. We killed in the course
of the day an elk, three geese, and a beaver. The beaver on this part
of the Missouri are in greater quantities, larger and fatter, and their fur
is more abundant and of a darker color, than any we have hitherto seen.
Their favorite food seems to be the bark of the cottonwood and willow,
as we have seen no other species of tree that has been touched by them,
and these they gnaw to the ground through a diameter of twenty inches."
And on the twenty-first of April the journal says:
"Last night there was a hard white frost, and this morning
the weather was cold, but clear and pleasant; in the course
of the day, however, it became cloudy and the wind rose.
The country is of the same description as within the few last days.
We saw immense quantities of buffalo, elk, deer, antelopes, geese,
and some swans and ducks, out of which we procured three deer
and four buffalo calves, which last are equal in flavor
to the most delicious veal; also two beaver and an otter."
As the party advanced to the westward, following the crooked course
of the Missouri, they were very much afflicted with inflamed eyes,
occasioned by the fine, alkaline dust that blew so lightly
that it sometimes floated for miles, like clouds of smoke.
The dust even penetrated the works of one of their watches,
although it was protected by tight, double cases.
In these later days, even the double windows of the railway
trains do not keep out this penetrating dust, which makes one's
skin dry and rough.
On the twenty-fifth of April, the explorers believed,
by the signs which they observed, that they must be near
the great unknown river of which they had dimly heard as rising
in the rocky passes of the Great Divide and emptying into
the Missouri. Captain Lewis accordingly left the party, with four men,
and struck off across the country in search of the stream.
Under the next day's date the journal reports the return
of Captain Lewis and says:--
"On leaving us yesterday he pursued his route along the foot
of the hills, which be descended to the distance of eight miles;
from these the wide plains watered by the Missouri and the Yellowstone
spread themselves before the eye, occasionally varied with the wood
of the banks, enlivened by the irregular windings of the two rivers,
and animated by vast herds of buffalo, deer, elk, and antelope.
The confluence of the two rivers was concealed by the wood,
but the Yellowstone itself was only two miles distant, to the south.
He therefore descended the hills and camped on the bank of the river,
having killed, as he crossed the plain, four buffaloes; the deer alone
are shy and retire to the woods, but the elk, antelope, and buffalo
suffered him to approach them without alarm, and often followed him
quietly for some distance."
The famous water-course, first described by Lewis and Clark, was named
by them the Yellow Stone River. Earlier than this, however,
the French voyageurs had called the Upper Missouri the Riviere Jaune,
or Yellow River; but it is certain that the stream, which rises
in the Yellowstone National Park, was discovered and named by Lewis
and Clark. One of the party, Private Joseph Fields, was the first white
man who ever ascended the Yellowstone for any considerable distance.
Sent up the river by Captains Lewis and Clark, he travelled about eight miles,
and observed the currents and sand-bars. Leaving the mouth of the river,
the party went on their course along the Missouri. The journal,
under date of April 27, says:--
"From the point of junction a wood occupies the space between
the two rivers, which at the distance of a mile come within
two hundred and fifty yards of each other. There a beautiful
low plain commences, widening as the rivers recede, and extends
along each of them for several miles, rising about half a mile
from the Missouri into a plain twelve feet higher than itself.
The low plain is a few inches above high water mark,
and where it joins the higher plain there is a channel of sixty
or seventy yards in width, through which a part of the Missouri,
when at its greatest height, passes into the Yellowstone.
. . . . . . . . .
The northwest wind rose so high at eleven o'clock that we were obliged
to stop till about four in the afternoon, when we proceeded till dusk.
On the south a beautiful plain separates the two rivers,
till at about six miles there is a piece of low timbered ground,
and a little above it bluffs, where the country rises gradually
from the river: the situations on the north are more high and open.
We encamped on that side, the wind, the sand which it raised,
and the rapidity of the current having prevented our advancing
more than eight miles; during the latter part of the day the river
became wider, and crowded with sand-bars. The game was in such
plenty that we killed only what was necessary for our subsistence.
For several days past we have seen great numbers of buffalo lying
dead along the shore, some of them partly devoured by the wolves.
They have either sunk through the ice during the winter,
or been drowned in attempting to cross; or else, after crossing
to some high bluff, have found themselves too much exhausted either
to ascend or swim back again, and perished for want of food:
in this situation we found several small parties of them.
There are geese, too, in abundance, and more bald eagles
than we have hitherto observed; the nests of these last being
always accompanied by those of two or three magpies, who are
their inseparable attendants."
In the Haunts of Grizzlies and Buffalo
Game, which had been somewhat scarce after leaving the Yellowstone,
became more plentiful as they passed on to the westward ,
still following the winding course of the Missouri. Much of the time,
baffling winds and the crookedness of the stream made sailing impossible,
and the boats were towed by men walking along the banks.
Even this was sometimes difficult, on account of the rocky ledges that beset
the shores, and sharp stones that lay in the path of the towing parties.
On the twenty-eighth of April, however, having a favorable wind,
the party made twenty-eight miles with their sails, which was reckoned
a good day's journey. On that day the journal records that game had again
become very abundant, deer of various kinds, elk, buffalo, antelope,
bear, beaver, and geese being numerous. The beaver, it was found,
had wrought much damage by gnawing down trees; some of these, not less
than three feet in diameter had been gnawed clean through by the beaver.
On the following day the journal has this record:--
"We proceeded early, with a moderate wind. Captain Lewis, who was on shore
with one hunter, met, about eight o'clock, two white [grizzly] bears.
Of the strength and ferocity of this animal the Indians had given us
dreadful accounts. They never attack him but in parties of six or
eight persons, and even then are often defeated with a loss of one or more
of their party. Having no weapons but bows and arrows, and the bad guns
with which the traders supply them, they are obliged to approach very near
to the bear; as no wound except through the head or heart is mortal,
they frequently fall a sacrifice if they miss their aim. He rather
attacks than avoids a man, and such is the terror which he has inspired,
that the Indians who go in quest of him paint themselves and perform all
the superstitious rites customary when they make war on a neighboring nation.
Hitherto, those bears we had seen did not appear desirous of encountering us;
but although to a skilful rifleman the danger is very much diminished,
yet the white bear is still a terrible animal. On approaching these two,
both Captain Lewis and the hunter fired, and each wounded a bear.
One of them made his escape; the other turned upon Captain Lewis and pursued
him seventy or eighty yards, but being badly wounded the bear could not
run so fast as to prevent him from reloading his piece, which be again
aimed at him, and a third shot from the hunter brought him to the ground.
He was a male, not quite full grown, and weighed about three hundred pounds.
The legs are somewhat longer than those of the black bear, and the talons
and tusks much larger and longer. Its color is a yellowish-brown;
the eyes are small, black, and piercing; the front of the fore legs near
the feet is usually black, and the fur is finer, thicker, and deeper
than that of the black bear. Add to which, it is a more furious animal,
and very remarkable for the wounds which it will bear without dying."
Next day, the hunter killed the largest elk which they had ever seen.
It stood five feet three inches high from hoof to shoulder.
Antelopes were also numerous, but lean, and not very good for food.
Of the antelope the journal says:--
"These fleet and quick-sighted animals are generally the victims
of their curiosity. When they first see the hunters, they run with
great velocity; if he lies down on the ground, and lifts up his arm,
his hat, or his foot, they return with a light trot to look at the object,
and sometimes go and return two or three times, till they approach
within reach of the rifle. So, too, they sometimes leave their flock
to go and look at the wolves, which crouch down, and, if the antelope
is frightened at first, repeat the same manoevre, and sometimes relieve
each other, till they decoy it from the party, when they seize it.
But, generally, the wolves take them as they are crossing the rivers;
for, although swift on foot, they are not good swimmers."
Later wayfarers across the plains were wont to beguile the antelope by
fastening a bright-colored handkerchief to a ramrod stuck in the ground.
The patient hunter was certain to be rewarded by the antelope coming
within range of his rifle; for, unless scared off by some interference,
the herd, after galloping around and around and much zigzagging,
would certainly seek to gratify their curiosity by gradually circling
nearer and nearer the strange object until a deadly shot or two sent
havoc into their ranks.
May came on cold and windy, and on the second of the month,
the journal records that snow fell to the depth of an inch,
contrasting strangely with the advanced vegetation.
"Our game to-day," proceeds the journal, "were deer, elk, and buffalo:
we also procured three beaver. They were here quite gentle,
as they have not been hunted; but when the hunters are in pursuit,
they never leave their huts during the day. This animal we esteem
a great delicacy, particularly the tail, which, when boiled,
resembles in flavor the fresh tongues and sounds of the codfish,
and is generally so large as to afford a plentiful meal for two men.
One of the hunters, in passing near an old Indian camp,
found several yards of scarlet cloth suspended on the bough of a tree,
as a sacrifice to the deity, by the Assiniboins; the custom of making
these offerings being common among that people, as, indeed, among all
the Indians on the Missouri. The air was sharp this evening;
the water froze on the oars as we rowed."
The Assiniboin custom of sacrificing to their deity, or "great medicine,"
the article which they most value themselves, is not by any means peculiar
to that tribe, nor to the Indian race.
An unusual number of porcupines were seen along here, and these creatures